Rich countries urged to close ‘vaccine gap’ to stop new variants taking hold

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Rich countries must give Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries to close the “dangerous gap” over access to the shots, leading global bodies have warned.

The heads of the World Health Organisation, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and World Trade Organisation said the lack of vaccines in developing nations made it easier for new variants of the virus to take hold.

They said the shortfall was creating a “two-track” pandemic, with low-income nations receiving “less than 1 per cent of vaccines administered so far”.

They said the shortfall was creating a “two-track” pandemic, with low-income nations receiving “less than 1 per cent of vaccines administered so far”.

“Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving untold millions of people vulnerable to the virus. It is also allowing deadly variants to emerge and ricochet back across the world,” they said in an open letter published in a number of newspapers.

“Even countries with advanced vaccination programmes have been forced to reimpose stricter public health measures. It need not be this way.”

The authors – including WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva and WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – called for $50 billion (£35bn) in new grants to help developing countries with their vaccination campaigns.

They suggested a target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the world’s population by the end of this year, rising to 60 per cent by the first half of next year.

They called for an immediate commitment to send doses abroad as well as investment in vaccine production to produce an extra 1 billion doses.

The call comes amid growing concern that the next stage of England’s road map out of lockdown on June 21 could be delayed due to the spread of the India strain.

About 75 per cent of British adults have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and more than 48 per cent have both doses.

However, only those over 30 are currently eligible to receive the shot, although some over-18s are being invited to come forward to receive their injection in hotspot areas.

In a separate letter, more than 100 cross-party British MPs urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to export more vaccines to developing countries to prevent new strains from wrecking the UK’s path to normality.

The signatories called for a “one in, one out” policy, with one dose donated for every one purchased.

A woman receives a dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford's vaccine in Nairobi, Kenya. The leaders of rich countries are being urged to donate more doses to developing countries. Reuters 
A woman receives a dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine in Nairobi, Kenya. The leaders of rich countries are being urged to donate more doses to developing countries. Reuters 

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, urged the government to commit to donating further doses ahead of hosting the G7 summit next month.

“The moral dilemma is that while we as a country have vaccinated 75 per cent of our population with one dose, in 91 countries they have received less than 1 per cent of the total doses, about 2.5 billion people,” she told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday.

“Literally millions of people could die between now and September and there is a global tragedy teetering on the edge.”

Despite Britain’s successful vaccination programme, ministers are being urged to delay unlocking the country.

Prof Adam Finn, a government adviser, said Britain needed to be more cautious as it grapples with the Indian variant.

“We do have to worry about trying to get to grips with characteristics of the new variant. The fact it appears to be significantly more infectious means we can expect to see larger numbers of cases and for the virus to reach people that the old variant might not reach,” he told Sky News.

“So things are much more up in the air than they were a couple of weeks ago.”

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said the prime minister would make a decision in the next few weeks.

“Clearly, we know the fact that case numbers are going up, but we want to make sure we act on data,” he said.

“This isn’t fudge, this is making sure we don’t speculate by using really good info to make good decisions.”

On Monday, 3,383 lab-confirmed new cases were confirmed in the UK – the sixth consecutive day that the figure has topped 3,000. One further death was reported.

THE NATIONAL

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